Chandler Clark and Eleanor McArdle were first-time debate team members, and the only students on AU’s debate team this year, but that didn’t stop them from placing third in nationals last month.
Nationals took place in Fullerton, California over spring break. There, McArdle, a sophomore psychology and marketing major, and Clark, a freshman political science and economics major, debated on the increase of federal minimum wage. There were about 20 teams in their division of competition.
The duo, who is also a real-life couple, was able to get one-on-one attention from their coach, Professor Terri Gibson, thanks to their smaller-than-normal team size. According to McArdle, most schools had three teams, each made up of two students.
The team went to three tournaments this semester. In each tournament, there are six rounds of debate. Teams must prepare arguments both for and against the topic, and they argue each side three times per tournament. The struggle, according to Clark, is that teams are not informed which side of the argument they will be making until about ten minutes before their scheduled debate slot.
Making negative arguments consists mostly of anticipation for possible opposition, said McArdle. Meanwhile, arguing in favor of the topic involved a lot of articulate planning and preparation.
“He was much better at the improvising arguments,” said McArdle, “and I was much more comfortable with the ones that were already planned.” Grabbing the judge’s attention played a large role in their success, too, according to Clark. Nonverbal cues, such as avoiding negative facial expressions and appearing confident, helped them to gain respect from judges during competition.
“You’re really just playing on the judge and manipulating them as much as possible,” said McArdle.
Their strategies weren’t always so well executed. With both members being new to competitive debating this year, there were some bumps. “Our first debate went terribly,” McArdle said. “We didn’t even know whose turn it was to speak most of the time. There was a cross-fire time when I didn’t even know that I was allowed to speak, so I sat there quietly and he did all of the talking.”
They lost that round of debate to their competitors from Ball State. By the end of the tournament, however, they found their stride. They came back to win the entire competition, even upsetting Ball State in the final round.
“[Debate] taught me to articulate myself and confidently express my opinion a respectful way,” said McArdle. “The most important application of debate is toward my faith. I’ve learned the importnce of backing my beliefs with passion, evidence and persuasive reasoning.”
Clark says that “debate was a positive experience full of crucial learning opportunities. What makes debate such a wonderful opportunity is the adoption of critical skills. By expounding on my knowledge of civil discourse, I feel as if I have acquired several more advantages for my future.”